The Big Bang Theory: The Intelligent Dialogue Factor

April 19, 2014


The award for most compelling vocabulary in a television series undoubtedly goes to CBS’s The Big Bang Theory. For the first time viewer, the word choice is obvious and in certain circumstances, beyond comprehension.

As Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) sidles through his soliloquies or sidesteps popular nomenclature with a thesaurus tipped tongue, the audience is entranced rather than annoyed. The vocabulary, although for the average viewer misunderstood, is compelling, and strangely enough, categorized, contemplated and understood.

As the first time viewer becomes the second time viewer, and eventually the loyal fan, the vocabulary, even though it is at times incomprehensible, becomes comprehendible. This strange phenomenon seems to be contradictory, but its existence has a very normal explanation.

The structure of the series revolves around the lives and work of particle physicists, astrophysicists, engineers and microbiologists, incorporating an impressive stream of relevant field jargon and very passable dialogue that in many moments for the average viewer is taken as clouded gibberish.

Yet, during a typical 22-minute episode, such dialogue is marginal, and cleverly manipulated according to each character, spiced with a comedic element and filtered through context that allows the viewer to understand the subject of conversation without having any experience in particle physics or microbiology.

The Big Bang Theory gets away with this because the viewer often brackets this dialogue as being within the realm of terminology they do not understand, and enough context is given so that the viewer does not need to know exactly what the terms mean.

Furthermore, after a while, certain vocabulary becomes common, and with context, becomes comprehendible.

In this case, the viewer is attracted more to the show because it offers, on a regular basis, the possibility for personal expansion, or an education through a comedic, enjoyable medium.

While all of the terminology will not translate into the viewer’s personal vocabulary, since The Big Bang Theory has become a staple in popular culture, certain words and phrases will come to life in reality, and have an impact on the everyday terminology the average person relies on to communicate in the real world.

Nobody will be able to communicate with particle physicists on an intelligent level, nor will the average viewer be able to consider the series as a substitute for an advanced degree, but it must be noted that the popularity of the show mixed with the adroit and intelligent dialogue will have an effect on global culture, and has the rare opportunity to introduce its expansive audience to a higher level of vocabulary as the show progresses.

It is not the responsibility of the show or its writers to introduce the audience to new terms. In fact, part of the effectiveness of the show is in incorporating these terms subtly and with the proper context so that over time the viewer will come to understand their meanings.

Whatever the effect, this phenomenon is far from detrimental to the viewer, and by intention or not, will continue to expose its audience to new and sometimes demanding vocabulary.